State Documents on Federal Relations/22

22. Report and Resolutions of Rhode Island on the Embargo.

March 4, 1809.

The following resolutions were adopted by both branches of the General Assembly on March 4, 1809; in the Senate by a vote of 7 to 4, in the House, 35 to 28. Extracts from the report of (he Committee which submitted the resolutions are also given. Rhode Island appears to have been the last State to take action condemning the embargo. In New Hampshire resolutions against the embargo were rejected by the House, December 23, 1808, by a vote of 25 to 101. (National Intelligencer, Jan. 6, 1809.) Many of the other States passed resolutions approving the policy of the administration, those of North Carolina, of December 5, 1808 (Amer. State Papers, Misc., I, 944, 945), and of Virginia, of February 7, 1809 (Acts of the General Assembly of Virginia, 1808–09, 99–104), may be taken as typical. The report accompanying the resolutions of Virginia is of considerable interest, as containing a reason for the failure of the embargo. It says: "If it has failed, in any degree, as a measure of constraint, your committee believe that it is not because our enemies have not felt its force, but because they believe we have felt it too sensibly; because the unfortunate opposition which the measure has met in some parts of the union, has inspired them with a fallacious hope, that we, ourselves, either could not or would not bear its privations."

The text of the resolutions of Rhode Island is from Acts and Resolves of Rhode Island General Assembly held at E. Greenwich on the fourth Monday of February, 1809, 32, 33.[1]

The State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations.

The Committee to whom were referred the memorials, petitions and resolutions of the towns [here follow the names of twelve towns], beg leave to report  *  *  *  that it would be a paradox in the history of the human mind, if a people, who from the foundation of their government have ever manifested the most warm and zealous attachment to civil liberty, should regard with indifference its extinguishment. It would betray an ignorance of their true interests, if they did not esteem it the "more perfect union of these States," as it is declared and provided for in the federal constitution as the parent and perpetuator of their political prosperity.

That it would be a reflection on their discernment and sagacity, if they did not foresee that the dissolution of the Union may be more surely, and as speedily effected by the systematick oppression of the government, as by the inconsiderate disobedience of the people. That the people of this State, as one of the parties to the Federal compact, have a right to express their sense of any violation of its provisions and that it is the duty of this General Assembly as the organ of their sentiments and the depository of their authority, to interpose for the purpose of protecting them from the ruinous inflictions of usurped and unconstitutional power.


Resolved, That the several acts of the Congress of the United States laying an embargo, by the permanent interdiction of foreign commerce, and by the numerous and vexatious restrictions upon the coasting trade, do, in the opinion of this General Assembly, infringe upon the undeniable rights and privileges of the good people of this State.

Resolved, That the act of Congress of the 9th of January last, enforcing the several embargo acts, is in many of its provisions unjust, oppressive, tyrannical and unconstitutional.

Resolved, That to preserve the Union and to support the constitution of the United States, it becomes the duty of this General Assembly, while it is cautious not to infringe upon the constitution and delegated powers and rights of the General Government, to be vigilant in guarding from usurpation and violation, those powers and rights which the good people of this State have expressly reserved to themselves, and have ever refused to delegate.

Resolved, That a committee be appointed and instructed to prepare a suitable remonstrance, addressed to the Congress of the United States, expressive of the feelings and opinions of this General Assembly on the several subjects of complaint in the aforesaid petitions, memorials and resolves; and praying the repeal of the aforesaid obnoxious and oppressive laws, and that Congress will in their wisdom devise efficacious measures for the preservation of the peace of the United States; and that said committee report the same at the next session of the General Assembly.

Resolved, That his Excellency the Governor be requested to transmit copies of the foregoing report and resolutions to the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives of the State of Massachusetts, and to the Governor of the State of Connecticut, and to the Legislatures of such other States as have manifested or may manifest a disposition to concur with us in the adoption of constitutional measures for the preservation of the Union of the States, and for the removal of the political evils under which we are now suffering.

  1. I am indebted to Mr. Clarence S. Brigham, Librarian of the Rhode Island Historical Society, for verifying the text of these resolutions.